BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati hit back Friday at opposition March 14 parties, strongly rejecting their renewed call for the resignation of his government following an abortive attempt to assassinate Batroun MP Butros Harb.
Meanwhile, Harb, a leading figure in the March 14 coalition, served security and judicial authorities with a 48-hour deadline to uncover the circumstances of the assassination attempt after which he would talk about the incident at a news conference next Monday.
However, Harb was not optimistic that the ongoing investigation into the assassination bid would reach concrete results.
“Judging by past experience, I don’t have great hope [in the investigation to uncover the perpetrators]. But it is my desire that the Lebanese state can assert its presence and the investigation leads to uncovering the perpetrators in this case,” Harb told Al-Jadeed TV Friday night.
Mikati, asked to comment on March 14 parties’ demand for the resignation of his government, which they blamed for the bid on Harb’s life, told reporters accompanying him on his trip to Germany: “We absolutely condemn any resorting to violence and assassination. We have instructed the relevant security agencies to conduct the necessary investigations to uncover the circumstances of the incident and apprehend the perpetrators.”
“With regard to the demand for the government’s resignation, this matter is not new. Since the first day of the government’s formation, some have not ceased demanding its resignation. “This government will continue its work and productivity despite all the difficulties it is encountering,” Mikati said. “It is unacceptable for some to ignore the intelligence of public opinion by holding the government responsible for things it is working to resolve.”
Harb was the target of an assassination attempt Thursday following the discovery of explosive detonators on the ceiling of the elevator in the Badaro building housing his law office. Three men suspected of planting the devices escaped.
The March 14 coalition quickly held the government responsible for the assassination bid because it had withheld telecommunications data necessary for security bodies to uncover such plots and called for its resignation.
Following a special meeting at Harb’s residence in Hazmieh, March 14 parties called on the government – particularly Hezbollah and Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement – to allow the Internal Security Forces access to mobile phone data.
Mikati rejected March 14 allegations against his government, saying there are constitutional channels for a Cabinet change.
“While some uphold their critical stances, we have remained silent long enough on allegations and smear. I say to those hurling allegations at the government haphazardly, ‘If you have no shame, do as you please,’” he said.
“There are constitutional mechanisms to end the government’s life. Until [such mechanisms] are available, I confirm that the government will continue its work and productivity, undeterred by futile campaigns whose purposes and goals are known,” Mikati said.
Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman condemned the assassination attempt and denounced the return to such tactics which, he said, would destabilize the country.
Speaking during a meeting with Harb at Baabda Palace, Sleiman said: “Security and judicial authorities have been given strict instructions to work to uncover the circumstances of this case as well as the perpetrators and abettors and refer them to the judiciary.”
Sleiman also met with the head of the Internal Security Forces, Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, who said that security services had intensified their search and investigation to uncover the perpetrators and abettors and refer them to the judiciary.
For his part, Harb called on Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui to provide security bodies with telecoms data, saying this was crucial for investigations into the attempt on his life. He served security and judicial authorities with a 48-hour deadline to uncover the circumstances of the assassination attempt after which he will talk about the incident at a news conference next Monday.
“If the Telecommunications Ministry does not provide the data, we cannot keep silent on this because the matter concerns all the Lebanese,” Harb said in a statement.
“The telecommunications minister phoned me yesterday [Thursday] saying that investigations would not lead to any results unless telecoms data was available. He expressed his readiness to [make such data available],” Harb said.
“Today it became clear to us that the conflict is between the Public Prosecutor’s office, which requested telecoms data across Lebanon and not just the area in which the attempt took place, and the ministry which has yet to respond,” he added.
Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr and Public Prosecutor Saeed Mirza met Harb Friday to brief him on the outcome of the ongoing investigation into the assassination attempt.
However, neither Saqr nor Mirza spoke to the media after the meeting.
Asked about the ongoing investigation, Harb said: “It is early to talk about the perpetrators. The security deterioration and what is happening in the region call for dealing [with the case] calmly and carefully.”
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel denied reports that telecoms data had been withheld from the probe into the attempt to kill Harb.
“All required telecoms data approved by the Judicial Committee will be provided,” Charbel told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. He said there was no problem in providing data in Harb’s assassination bid.
“The data in the attempt to assassinate Harb remains at the disposal of security forces and the judiciary,” Charbel said. He added that since some results had been reached in the investigation, “this could lead to positive results.”
“All security bodies, including the [ISF’s] Information Branch, the Lebanese Army, intelligence and judicial police, have been recruited to arrive at the truth in Harb’s case. I hope that matters will remain under control in order to reach a positive result,” Charbel said.
Meanwhile, forensics authorities began examining samples collected from the ceiling of the elevator where explosive detonators were discovered and the bag left behind by the man who fled in a BMW X5 SUV.
Results of the examination, to be announced at the beginning of next week, will be compared with DNA tests of samples held by forensics authorities in an attempt to determine the identity of the perpetrator, the National News Agency reported.
Also, forensics authorities – after listening to testimony from some witnesses, including a retired physician in the building and the concierge who tried to hold the man for some time before he managed to escape – have finalized a police sketch of the man suspected of attempting to plant the explosives device aimed at assassinating Harb, the NNA said. It added that the man’s sketch had been circulated at various sectors of security forces in an attempt to arrest him.